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The Effect Plastic Bags Have on the Death of Wildlife

Doing something as simple as using reusable bags can save the earth’s wildlife. A devastating number of turtles, birds, whales and other animals are killed each year because plastic bags are mistaken for food such as jellyfish. Once a plastic bag is ingested by an animal, it cannot be digested, so it sits in the animal’s gut, preventing the digestion of other food and resulting in an extremely painful and slow death.

A plastic bag can literally take 1000 years to break down, so after an animal dies from eating the plastic and its body decomposes, the plastic is left behind and can be ingested by another animal.

Food for the turtle

About 40 percent of autopsies performed on turtles confirm that death is due to plastic bags stuck in their intestinal tract. When plastic bags float in water, they look a lot like jellyfish, which is a favorite food source for some turtles. These deaths can be avoided if everyone just uses reusable grocery bags every time they go to the store.

A turtle in 2007 was found to have more than 50 objects in its intestinal tract, including nylon rope, plastic bags, plastic wrap, balloons and candy wrappers. The less plastic enters the environment, the safer wildlife will be.

Shameful Seas

A Bryde’s whale that ran aground and died on a Cairns beach in August 2000 was necropsied to reveal 20 square feet of tightly packed plastic, mostly shopping bags, lodged in its stomach. So many whales like this one die in the ocean where the plastic is eventually re-exposed to the water for other sea creatures to feed on, creating a vicious circle.

It is estimated that over 100,000 sea creatures are killed each year due to plastic pollution. These animals don’t die instantly, they suffer. Imagine not being able to digest any food and then not being able to eat because of it and literally starving to death and all because of plastic bags and other plastic products. Every time consumers go to the store they make a conscious decision whether or not to use a reusable shopping bag. It is not understandable why anyone would still choose to use traditional bags, knowing the harm they cause.

Are changes coming?

It’s not uncommon to find flamingos, platypuses and other animals suffocated from getting tangled in plastic bags and unable to wriggle their way out. In Australia in 2008, a crocodile was found dead with 25 plastic bags in its stomach. In addition, pelicans, seagulls and other birds are found daily with the same cause of death.

Because of these figures and other environmental concerns, many countries such as Bangladesh, Taiwan, China and Italy have either banned plastic bags altogether or passed laws to charge for them, making reusable bags the primary choice.

Unfortunately, in the United States, plastics industries are rallying hard to resist potential laws or bans, arguing that jobs will disappear. It is estimated that Americans throw away at least 100 billion bags annually. Some cities, however, are taking their own approach. Places like New York are talking about imposing a tax of six cents per plastic bag distributed. Many stores already offer small incentives to consumers who bring their own eco-friendly bags with them when shopping.

Small changes are happening, but you don’t have to wait for council taxes or state laws to make a difference. Stop using plastic bags today to save the animals of tomorrow.

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